Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Open Letter to the Mayor of Lagos

Mayor’s Office
Lagos, Nigeria

Dear Chief Tinubu,

I recently had the opportunity to visit your fair city on business and I was so impressed that I had to take the time to write to you concerning my experiences. As one who has been accustomed to Western practices concerning city planning and zoning, I must say that your approach is unique. I discuss in this letter several specific issues about your city that impressed me.

We in the west are obsessed with smooth roads. Obviously, we haven't thought through the issue. One of the leading causes of death in America is traffic accidents. Yet we continue to demand better and smoother roads. Good roads lead to fast driving which leads to more accidents and death. How much more sensible it is to allow the roads to deteriorate and let the resulting potholes act to slow cars down to safer speeds, thereby saving lives. And it also saves those pesky road repair expenses. And the slower traffic assists those entrepreneurs among your population by allowing them to wander freely among the cars in an effort to sell their wares, or acquire a new car.

I have always considered that lane markings, traffic lights and automobile inspections are an infringement upon my personal rights. I am glad to see that you have none of these. How much more logical to allow traffic to find its own flow path. Much like water will always seek its own level, traffic will always part for the larger vehicle or the one with loudest horn. And your one and only traffic law, "he who honks first has the right of way", is a triumph of simplicity. In the west, the driver is often so confused by the myriad of conflicting traffic laws that he winds up breaking the law anyway. Having only one law makes it much easier for the driver to remember and it results in much less breaking of the law.

In the west, we are so obsessed with trash removal that we spend millions of dollars collecting it, carrying it to a land fill, sorting it for re-cycling and finally burying it. Trash removal has become a major budget item for any western city. City planners could learn a lesson from your system. The cost of collection can be eliminated by dropping trash wherever is convenient, then forming a pile with this trash followed by burning it in place. We in the west have also made the mistake of concentrating trash into a single area. How much better to distribute the trash over as wide an area as possible and burn it so that the resulting smoke is diffused over a wider area. The smoke has the added function of keeping mosquitoes at bay thereby reducing the incidence of malaria. And with your economic system, the trash is scavenged so thoroughly for useable items before burning that recycling is not necessary.

I often wondered what those picturesque little buildings were that were built on piles along the rivers edge. As you have demonstrated, sometimes the old ways are the best. Rather than the mess and expense of those smelly sewage treatment plants, how much better to build little houses on stilts over the river and let the water carry it away. And the benthic organisms below the hut must enjoy the free organic matter that drops from on high. As those organisms form the bottom of the food chain, it is important to keep them well fed.

You are to be commended for your support of individual entrepreneurship. I am truly impressed with the numbers of sole proprietorships I see setting up for business every morning on my drive to the office. My particular favorites are the open air mechanic's shops and tire filling stations utilizing discarded automobile air conditioning compressors. Of course, you can't forget the numerous fast food operations serving hot food cooked over an open fire. In the west, we often pay a premium for open flame cooked barbeque, but in Lagos, it is available on the street corner, literally.

And I must mention your zeal in Coastal Zone Management by the multiple use of the port area. To see fishing and port operations co-existing side by side is something we don’t often see in the west. And the idea of installing artificial reefs in the shape of derelict vessels to assist the fishermen is brilliant. It's not everyone who would think to sink derelict vessels right in the port. Why, it saves the expense of towing these vessels to a ship breaker and provides a habitat for the fish which aids the fisherman who use the port as their fishing grounds.

It is also refreshing to see police officers supplementing their income by committing armed robbery. Police in the US are underpaid as well but they can't be so open about seeking supplemental employment. And, after all, they already have the guns so it just makes good sense to double use out of them. It lends a whole new meaning to the term “Cops and Robbers”.

But in closing, I must tell you how much I enjoyed the picturesque views of your city, especially the view in my rear view mirror. Keep up the good work.


The Peripatetic Engineer

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